Apps Business programming

BabyGroup Tech Journey

So here’s a little behind-the-scenes on one of SA’s newest e-commerce shops, BabyGroup. This has been a really great project to be involved with so it’s nice to be able to share a little on the journey. It’s also one of the few that are not “top-secret” so I can actually share some detail on it. Ha!

The journey:

BabyGroup started with the usual preliminary pre-project engagements and project proposals during August/September 2012. In that time, over a series of high-level discussions, the vision was explained with a view to understanding the technical requirements, all leading to the ultimate appointment of yours truly to head up the technical side of the project commencing October 2012.

We opened doors 1 May 2013, 8 months later (we did some soft launching before) with full ecommerce and online creditcard payments with 3D Secure (yes, there was some small delays, both real-world and technical with regards 3D Secure).

So what happened in that 8 months:

We designed the aesthetics of the site and put together the 60+ page template designs required for launch

We iterated through the site’s workflow, with a focus on the basket checkout process and making sales (ie, UX)

We picked out an ecommerce/cms platform to serve the base of our needs

We architected integration points and highlighted custom code requirements to meet some of BabyGroup’s unique requirements

We implemented all of the above

Outside of that, in the real world, offices need to be setup, with warehousing, and stock needed to be bought. Photos needed to happen, marketing needed to kick in, basically- a LOT needed to go down. I, however, focused on the site architecture, implementation and roll-out.

And to do that, I had 1 resource, me. But this is an area I thrive in. Full-stack development, with a handle on the full life-cycle.

I chose Kentico CMS as the base platform because:

it’s an ASP.NET solution and I prefer the predictability of strongly-typed systems where the complexity is expected to explode. There’s a lot that can be said about that, and it would stir up a debate, no doubt, but in the end, I needed to move on a platform I could do gymnastics on. And the trusty Windows Server, SQL, C#, ASP.NET is hard to beat in that regard.

But I didn’t have any Kentico experience at all. In fact, I had far more Magento experience at this point. Well, it was probably my experience with Magento (and PHP specifically) that motivated my decision to go Kentico/C#. Read what you will between the lines *wink*.

If you would like more information on Kentico CMS as a platform option, I would strongly encourage you to visit their site.

I also chose Azure as the hosting provider. Not because I had experience with it, in fact, my experience with Azure at the start was very limited, but I could see (and not from reading the headlines of pseudo-tech-journals) the promise it held along with some of the successes others were having.

Both were very steep learning curves. Again, something I love tackling.

Looking back, this was a perfect project for me really: I had 2 brand new technologies to master, I needed to code fluently in C#, integrate with several unknown APIs, do some HTML/CSS wizardry based on a PSD file, add in some funky Javascript in places (I even sliced some images in Photoshop.. oooo *hahaha*) and do all that asap, based on a Word document (with a lot of Visio diagrams). Love it!

We changed strategies en-route (several times) and stuck to the plan of planning to change when we need to. Again, something I absolutely love about programming and software. The environment is very fluid, the ideas are flowing thick and fast but budgets need to be honoured. A lot of this really was due to the sheer hard work and brilliance of Henri and James, the Jedi masters behind it all, who have taught me heaps about real-world business.

This is also something I love about programming in startup environments. The mind-share with and interaction with the business side adds a very real dynamic and pressure to the software side and keeps it real. Yes, you can get all fluffy about a lot things inside coding with design patterns and performance and unit testing and strict iterations and planned releases… but there’s a point where the bone meets flesh and the only thing that matters is what’s happening on the site, live, right now.

And this takes discipline. It doesn’t mean you throw out good practices and take shortcuts. If anything, you specifically avoid those oh-so-tempting shortcuts and don’t make decisions that’ll bite you in the ass later. It just means that at times, you put your foot down, drink a double espresso and make it happen. Even at 3am if you have to.

Yes, we have full unit testing on all custom code (and still running green). Yes, we have a development environment, a fully hosted quality-assurance environment, a pre-production environment and a live production environment running on the cloud. Oh yes, we do. Excuse me while I high-5 myself here quickly.

Since launch, we’ve had some great sales, the site has been acting nicely, the custom integration points ticking over neatly, all paying rent and everything, for the most part, sweet. Yes, we’ve hit some hurdles and had one or two oopsies, but nothing that can’t be fixed quickly and nothing that’s derailed us.

There’s still plenty new things happening behind the scenes and lots more coding happening. And the journey is, in true geekdom, tres cool. Here’s to making it happen even more and, oh, if you looking for some neat (but not just your everyday type stuff mind you) baby-related products, BabyGroup is where you should be looking.

P.S. And if I sound a little like I’m gloating, well, maybe I am. I’m just proud of the work I have done and try to do. I love what I do and hardly work a single day. I’m not ashamed of that. Why would I be? Yes, I’m not perfect and make mistakes from time to time, just part and parcel of being human. But I do try my best to make right. And this project, like a lot of others (even those I can’t talk about) have been such a blessing to be a part of, it’s hard not to sing and dance about. So, here I am, singing and dancing….

Business programming Technology

Opensource is not Free

Opensource, love it or hate it, has a definite place in our software ecosystem. I use opensource all the time, and i put a lot of projects up on opensource too. I don’t have any issue with it at all, on the contrary, opensource, by-and-large, has helped shape me as a developer. So, for the record, i love opensource. But then there’s also free software…

Free software is software you can download and use, for free, to do *something*. There is a lot of it. In fact, there is so much free software, some folk don’t even like paying a single penny for *any* software. I’m not going to touch on piracy- that’s a completely different issue. Chances are, if you look hard enough, you’ll more than likely find a free piece of software out there to do whatever you need to do. Even if you end up using two or three different free software apps to accomplish one task…

Now the proliferation of free and opensource has had an interesting side-effect. I hear a lot of “wtf?!” in response to actually paying for software. For example, I mention a licence fee of USD$300 to do a relatively complex task and I often hear: “why pay $300 when you can download and use some opensource component to do the same thing?” Or even better: “but you’re a developer, can’t you just build the same thing for me?”


The same thing.

It’s never the same thing. And often, to build the “same thing” would probably cost 3 times as much, if not more. And it has nothign to do with how good or bad a developer I am. Sure, I could use an opensource component. But I still need to vet the code, integrate the libraries, write a test suite for it (if there’s nothing attached) and make sure it does everything and that the “same thing” is exactly what is needed.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes that doesn’t. You can spend hours working with a “free” or “opensource” project only to discover some weird edge case that you need to cover or you end up trying to extend it (or trim it down) and find out the architecture is a real mess. Either way, your free component is now costing you, and more, putting __your__ product at risk.

On the contrary, a paid-for product has (usually) been built, tested in a standard QA environment, released with support options and comes with a warranty of sorts. I say usually because, as in life, you get software lemons too. But mostly, there is a system of connected people behind a paid-for product. An opensource project on the other hand, is (again) usually a smaller team more focused on *other things* (or next delivery milestone) that they don’t, can’t, won’t fix *your* problems with the codebase -for free-.

Again, there are always exceptions.

Bottom line, there’s a real business, with real people who need real money, behind the product. And yes, there are some opensource projects that are also a business- those actually fall more into a product offering than “free as in free beer” code.

Free beer code works when your dev team integrating it groks the codebase. It’s no different than having a regular team member contribution. Everyone needs to know what that code is doing: they can read it, can debug it, can modify it. If your team can’t (for whatever reason) then leave that code alone, or be happy to run the risk of bleeding later, which is usually when you really don’t want to.

And don’t be so scrooge about paying for software. Often, the licences are well-priced because the spend has already been done- and the model is in place to make a business of selling. Again, due diligence is required, as you would any other purchase. But you cannot run on the default strategy that opensource = free = cheaper.

Business programming

Tech And The Art of Ninja

There’s a lot of folk that like to call themselves ninjas out there- and it’s just plain wrong. Now unless you’re familiar with the Togakure-ryÅ« then you probably need to rethink your strategy a little…

Ok, so you don’t mean that you’re actually a -real- ninja, like, a real ass-kicking ninjutsu warrior with highly developed skills in espionage, combat and a multitude of other arts and skills. Fair enough. So what does ninja really mean then- that you’re supposed to be highly skilled? Well, here’s a funny twist: you cannot call yourself a ninja- not even a non ass-kicking-warrior one. Any title of excellence has to be bestowed upon you by one greater and more skilled than yourself. Formally. And usually, there’s a ritual of sorts involved. Sometimes, live animals are hurt.

Stop for a minute and think about every other title out there which conveys a sense of mastery: take the most common ones like professor or doctor even. These are titles earned after years of training and bestowed upon the learner by their guardians and masters- who themselves have acquired great learning over YEARS. A ninja, a real ninja, follows a similar path. The same goes for the word guru. By maintaining the traditions that these titles have been founded on, they ensure the longevity of a well-respected standard.

So calling yourself a ninja or a guru doesn’t make any sense. You’re just buying into your own hype and unfortunately, people who know even less than you, fall for it emotionally and romantically. Basically, you’re just conning everyone (most of all yourself). An even greater irony is that most esteemed masters seem to understand just how little they do know and shy away from the all-powerful titles in humility (enlightenment seems to have that effect).

So you’re a wizard (oops, there’s another title) with HTML or C++, maybe some Python- or… wait for it.. Twitter of all things. People who know less than you, will look up to you and respect your talent and skill. They might even go: “Wow. You’re such a jedi with INSERT_TECHNOLOGY_HERE!”

Awesome. Now if you believe that and start calling yourself a jedi, guru, ninja, prof because a bunch of people who know less than you actually think you are, then you have a serious dilemma. If you haven’t spotted the irony yet, let me make repeat: a worthy title is bestowed upon you by one greater than yourself- not by one lesser (and greater and lesser are purely relative terms with respect skill levels- not humanitarian judgments). That’s just plain backwards.

And no, not even if your peers think you’re a guru can you call yourself a guru. It simply doesn’t work that way. If you had to see a doctor about a terminal illness and enquired about her credentials and the reply you got was: “Well, all her friends thinks she knows quite a lot about health and medicine so they just call her The Doctor”. You can see where this is going, and where it came from. In early civilisations this is is exactly how it worked. But part of that entitlement included a wealth of supporting evidence.

So, now you might say: well, I have a collection of really good websites (or Tweets and followers) and everyone thinks I’m the bees knees, so why not call myself a ninja if everyone else thinks I am? *sigh*
Well, for starters, you probably cannot ride a horse…

Elevate your own standards and have a little respect for yourself and your own hard-won skills. If you want to be called a ninja- look for someone who is WAY better than yourself- is proven to be years ahead of you in skill- and then go and try impress the bajutsu out of them. So much so that they say: “Well done, padawan!”. Then one day they will turn around say: “The master has finally become the student” at which point you have arrived. Funny thing is, it doesn’t matter anymore and now that your skills exceed that of your master; he/she can probably no longer bestow the title on you since you are now “greater”. Checkmate.

And yes, I get that people use the terms as metaphors: “I’m looking for a ninja front-end web developer” => “I’m looking for a highly skilled front-end web developer”. Ok, so what’s wrong with the plain and obvious in the second statement? Why on earth would you choose “ninja” over “highly skilled”? Does it make you sound cool? Does it make you trend or get more search results? Are you bored with “highly skilled”?

And probably the biggest issue of all is that real ninjas and gurus are finding it harder and harder every day to find decent work and support their families since they need to spend all day trawling through completely unrelated spam.

Job Ad #3209 of 40,600,000 related to search for ‘ninja jobs’:
“Wanted: Ninja.”

“Yes, please!”

Job Ad #3209:
“Duties: Resolve CSS issues in IE6”

“WTF? Seriously?”

Ninja’s wife:
“Hey, honey! How’s the job-hunting going?”

“Well, I found someone I need to kill but it doesn’t pay…”

Business perspective Technology

Brand Invasion

Online social spaces are a quagmire. While they were primarily created for people to engage and share ideas, the prevailing subtext is less noble. You can start a revolution, join a collaboration or just be human inside that virtual world- with real-world effects, or you can spend waste hours watching fake videos.

Hello, brand invasion. Like the Portugese traders of yesteryear, the brands arrived bearing trinkets we couldn’t refuse. A pair of sunglasses for a “like”. A T-Shirt for a “follow”. Some even trade comments, page visits, emails, photos or simply a click-through. And so we trade happily and frivolously, indulging the offerings and running back to the village boasting our “gains”. It’s playful. What we never counted on was the brands taking it too seriously.

Facebook today is a mess as a result (and trying to recover). Twitter is fast going the same route- with the brakes on. People like, follow, talk, share and get entertained by brands- not so much by people anymore. But in the real world, we don’t talk about brands really- unless there’s a strong emotional event attached to the brand. And the brands with their agencies love it. They see the effect and keep pumping the same strategy because, well, it’s working. Can you say viral? That’s codeword for success. But I think they’re confusing correlation and causation…

In the real world, people engage with people. When last did you go down to your favourite brand’s spot and just enjoy the company of their people- not their product? Hang out with the VP, shoot the breeze with the software guy, have coffee with the secretary….? You see, it’s not really a meaningful relationship. I mean, you don’t invite BrandX to dinner ever, do you (as a consumer)? And if you did, who/what would you invite anyway?

I can understand the economic models around social media; online presence and returns (and dangers). What you do with money makes the world go twirly-wirly and we all benefit in the long term (or supposed to at any rate). In much the same way the Portugese traders arriving could be argued as a good thing (well, at least it wasn’t on the same scale as the Spanish strategy of “submit or die”), the brand-invading-social event can be a good thing. We do need to remind ourselves though: who ended up ruling the land?

I used to see ordinary people having meaningful conversations about love, life, the universe- academic revolutions, religious and philosophical debates- the “essentials” of living- on social spaces. Now we share a TED video for that. Like it. Follow someone. (I still see those conversations, but not in the spaces where you’d think they’d be)

People are having conversations about how a brand’s t-shirt changed their lives- competing to win a freebie; vying for position of “influencer”- for more freebies. Their motives are ulterior, emotions cliched, strategies shallow. The brand invasion changed the way people engage and altered the energy distribution: they changed the game. Even the big issues; a war in Somalia? Don’t worry, retweet this and BrandX will donate $1 to aid…

In the social spaces, the revolutions were organised by people. The masses were mobilised by people. Action was effected by people. The real conversations took place between people. Brands can’t do that. They risk segmenting their market and losing revenue if their position is too strong on one side (and the market is 50/50): the quintessential diplomat.

And yes, this is a general discussion. And yes again, there is an example out there which can be used as an argument to counter any one of the points above. It’s easy to pick out one example because it stands out as one example against the norm. And that’s the point really- it’s an outlier. Cult-brands aside…

Ultimately, there is a space and a place for brands online- even on Facebook. Some will invade the popular mediums and behave like a weed, others will grow in harmony. Some will appeal to the base and primitive needs of online-man and continue to trade likes for product. Economically, there is only so much you can give away before you realise you have a fanbase of 100000 followers who only want a freebie- and are not interested in actually paying for your product. The Groupon effect. Others will make a real difference.

In the meantime, social spaces will struggle to be personal and meaningful. When they don’t succeed on the whole, the people will move into another space where they can touch base with the personal and meaningful; the stuff that makes them human. Maybe one day we’ll all be back chatting on ##family… or on BBM.

And that’s precisely why a relevant and meaningful social space can’t be invaded (in the offensive sense) by a brand. The energy inside a relevant space is dynamic, powerful, unpredictable. It demands a constant stream of energy. Brands need constraints, constructs, predictable returns and an efficient communication mechanism relative to their budgets. The inefficiency and chaos of a real conversation is what makes it beautiful and adds dimension, frustration, inspiration, colour and emotion.


Vehicle Finance And Balloon Payments

It’s a popular way to sell vehicles these days; the balloon payment. The sales and marketing will tell you that it brings down your monthly installments and at the end of the finance term, the dealer will buy back your car to cover that balloon payment (guaranteed, terms and conditions apply) or you just refinance/settle that outstanding amount. Sound good?

This payment is also known as a bullet payment: because it’s like a bullet to the head. Sound harsh? Not when you know what’s really going on in the maths. And keep in mind, the residual offer is also made available to folk who are “high risk” or simply cannot afford the regular payment. In other words, people who are already financially marginalised. Let’s have a look see…

Note: numbers have been rounded to make the reading easier…

The list price on a vehicle is R330 000. Terms are over 60 months. Interest rate: 11.5%. On a regular loan, you can expect to pay back R7200/month. Once you’re done paying for the car, you’ve paid back R435 453.63 (or financed R105 500 in interest over the 5 years). Ha, you think that’s bad?

Let’s apply a 30% balloon payment to the same offer. Your balloon payment is R99 000. Your monthly payment is now down (the “good” news) to R6 000/month. Over the term, at that repayment, you’ve paid back R361 800 (or what might look like R31 800 in interest). Wow. Sounds great! BUT, you still owe R99 000. Now even if you paid off that R99 000 in one go, you would have paid R130 800 extra for the same car. So where does it all add up…?

That R99 000 payment at the end of the term is discounted back to today’s value (at the deal’s terms and interest rates) to a value of R55 860. The loan that you actually end up applying for is NOT R330 000 – R99 000. It is in fact R330 000 – R55 860, a value of R274 140. That’s why your repayment is lower- but not that low. That R99 000 represents a “discount” you get today but you still pay interest on it until you pay it off. Effectively, you’re financing 2 loans. You have actually financed R87 600 in interest (compare that to R105k on the traditional loan)

One for R274 140 at R6 000/month, another for R55 860, except that in case, the monthly payment is deferred in lieu of paying the whole loan off in one go at the end. Still sound good? Of course, if you have the extra R1200/month lying about, pay it in, but you might need to stipulate wether this is a payment towards interest, capital or the residual. Getting complicated?

Now, unless you have that amount lying around after 5 years of paying a premium, you’re probably going to need to refinance that R99 000. The terms and interest of that loan don’t exist today and still have to be negotiated. Let’s assume you manage to refinance that R99 000 on the same terms (unlikely), that’s another 5 years at R2 200/month for a grand total of R130 600.

In all, your R330 000 car, with a 30% residual refinanced, now costs you R361 800 + R130 600 = R492 400 over 10 years. The traditional loan is R435 500 over 5 years.

Now, just looking at the whole deal, you can decide for yourself wether that’s worth it or not. Depending on where you’re investing, spending, saving, it might actually be a worthwhile avenue. Or it might not.

Just keep in mind:
* you’re paying off two loans when you opt for a residual value
* the residual amount represents a discount you receive today that’s already been compounded with interest
* you’re effectively applying for finance at the list price less the discounted price
* the dynamics of the interest on the residual are hidden from view

Happy financing!


Property Investment Dogma and Karma

“dogma”: noun, a principle laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. Also, a weird movie with which we’re not concerned. “Investment”: also a noun, the process of investing money for profit. Property; well we all know that one and karma is that thing which bites us in the ass. Snap.

So let’s take a closer look at property investment dogma. Invest in property! You’re mad not to buy. Don’t rent. It’s a buyer’s market, a seller’s market. Buy now before the boom. Buy now before the crash. Interest rates! Bleh- the whole market is filled with so much hype and pseudo-scientific mathematics poured by people whose only interest is to serve their own profits (hey, if the shoe fits… ). And then of course, there’s the baby boomer generation and their offspring which profited heavily from property investment; so they think it’s the only form of real financial wealth and stability. Let’s take a real look at the numbers, shall we?

In 1981, somebody earning R500 per month could afford a 20 year mortgage of R15k on a house valued at R20k. A year later, the house sold for a whopping R23k. So how do we compare prices then, to prices today?

CPI. The consumer price index is a way of leveling the playground a little bit so we can compare prices of yester-year with right now. It accounts for inflation across a number of different items and is quite involved. Suffice to say (and regardless of exactly how precise it it) our systems run off what we have come to know simply as “inflation” and “interest”.

So, using our trusty zaFin tools, we can determine the equivalent money, adjusted for inflation, in one time-period and compare it to another time period. For example, did you know that in Feb 2002, a loaf of bread cost you R3.18. If bread prices rose in line with inflation, that would be equivalent to R5.35 in December 2010. But hang on, it’s way more than that isn’t it?

What that means is that the price of bread rose (no pun intended) faster than inflation. All things equal, the bottom line is, it’s relatively more expensive to buy bread now than it was back in 2002. In fact, it’s almost 100% more expensive than it should be.

So what about those numbers in the beginning? Earning R500 per month is the same as earning R56k per month in December 2010. Nice salary. But I don’t think firemen earn that kind of money, now do they?
A R15k mortgage (at prime back in 1980, thank you zaFin) would have given you a repayment of R145 per month. This is 30% of that gross monthly salary we’re talking about, which evidently, is the number banks use as a general guideline for determining a loan amount. Although today, they like to make it more complicated than that.

Anyhow, so spending 30% of R56k is ±R17k, which means you could probably get a loan for R1.8M (not afford, but qualify for). Incidentally, that is what that same house sold for. Pretty much on cue with the adjusted inflation index. So, at best, a property investment will keep your money at inflation. Only thing is, bread (using just one example) spikes out of control relative to inflation so even if your money is barely keeping up with inflation, you still lose money in the pocket. Snap.

But can you also spot the gap? A fireman can no longer afford to get a loan on a house worth R1.8M anymore. So what happened? Simply put: inflation rose way above what our normal salaries could. And we’ve all experienced that, except of course those that control the game: the authority.

When you take out a standard 20 year loan on a house at prime, your banks start collecting interest from day one. And if you break down a repayment schedule, you will notice that your equity repayments are minimal. In fact, that loan of R15k over 20 years at 10% interest will see you making a repayment of R145 per month. Of that, you’re servicing R120 in interest for the first few payments- nice. So yes, property is a good investment ONLY IF you’re the one loaning the money. By the way, you’ve paid back R35k by the time you’re finished servicing R15k. Inflation targets around 6% while prime lending rates sit at around 10%. Easy maths: you make more money loaning money than you do trying to invest in property.

Heck, who wouldn’t punt property as an investment BOOM if they knew just how much money they could make off people wanting to get in: hype. So yes, the authority will push that property is a great investment. Duh.

Something else to consider: this example is from a time period when it was good and house prices in Cape Town seriously boomed. Between 1982 and 1998, house prices in Cape Town rose way above the national average. Way, way, way above national average. So now we also have an edge case “super” investment and it fared well…

But how sustainable is that? What will happen over the next 20 years if the baseline we got to work from is already so exaggerated? Who on earth is actually going to be able to afford to buy that property? Seriously, house prices will have to stay the same price until firemen can once again afford that kind of housing on their salaries.

Neh… out with the dinosaur investments. Definitely need to rethink how we’re going to shape the future.

Business Technology

Managing A Systems Upgrade

Over the years in which I’ve been involved with IT as a software developer, I’ve been on all sides of a major systems upgrade. As developer, I’ve written systems that were the upgrade for a system being phased out; had to support plug-ins that integrate with the newly upgraded systems; assisted in rolling out upgrades.
As a consumer, I’ve been a customer of a corporate who’s upgraded their systems. As a spectator, I’ve seen companies execute upgrades and read the aftermath. One thing is common: upgrades are a headache. As a colleague and friend I’ve listened to peers regale their experiences with corporate upgrades and been the shoulder to cry on.

Sure, updating your WordPress installation is just a click these days- but this is just one piece of software yet a good analogy. It’s rarely the core system that gives you the hassles- it’s all the integration points. The plug-ins that were dependent on the core. Assumptions would have been made in those integrations that were beyond the documentation, the implementation or vision of the core platform. Or they within scope, but now have to change due to “architectural changes” (or any other all-encompassing label). Trust- it can get messy. If you’ve been there, you will know.

And in all that, nothing has impressed me more than the way CellC recently rolled out their billing systems upgrade. They tweeted, they facebooked they warned everyone. It was like their upgrade was a major party that you had been invited to share in and it was going to be awesome! They kept tweeting hour by hour updates as to progress and where the problems were. They released press statements highlighting their challenges and where they were getting unstuck. And when they solved those problems, they let us know. And when it was all done, they kept us in the loop with more updates.

Was I impacted by their upgrade? Yes. Did it affect me to the point where I couldn’t communicate and do business? Yes. Was it for very long? No. Was I satisfied with the progress and the way they handled it? Absolutely! Would I recommend CellC as a provider? Yes! Am I a fan? You bet. Am I amazed by their execution (knowing what I know an upgrade to be like?). Definitely. Geek respect. They did an awesome job.

Business perspective

How to Write A Job Spec

So your company is looking to hire (again). The (dis?)advantage to the online space is that you don’t have to write an ad (carefully and though-provokingly) that needs to be circulated in print. However, it’s only an advantage if it translates into an opportunity to be as creative as need be (pictures! videos! woohoo). Sadly however, it seems that no matter how drunk the opportunity might be, it will never get taken advantage of.
Seriously. When last did you see a job ad that included *at least* one (non-stock) picture- or even some gratuitous colour?

Let’s say you’re looking to hire a developer/marketing guru/insert-job-title-here…
First question: who would be the best possible candidate (within your organisation) to strike a chord with other potential developers/marketing gurus/insert-job-titles-here out there seeking gainful employment?


Surely not?

I’ll talk from a developer’s perspective to illustrate my point.

Does HR really know how to communicate with another programmer better than a fellow of the realm? (unless of course that HR has had a career change, which is not unlike a sex change apparently)
I’m guessing not.

Does HR (or is this marketing’s influence?) also not realise that phrases like “fresh, dynamic company” apply to 99.99999% of all job ads out there. After all, who would advertise:

Boring, staid company seeks equally dull individual to maintain lack of office vibe.

So you’re effectively writing without really communicating when you drop phrase du jour into your ads.

Now also keep in mind that programmers, like any other jobseeker out there, are accustomed to reading 1000s of job ads. After a while, you can’t help but pick up the patterns, which, evidently is what a programmer is born, trained, paid, skilled and schooled to do. It’s like staring at those hidden pictures…

So the last thing you want to do is sound just like every other ad out there- unless the first thing you want to do is attract anybody who calls themselves a programmer. And in this day and age, it *is* scary at exactly what does flock towards the job title of programmer.

So here’s an approach: distributed problem solving. Get your developers to write the spec. Heck, get as many people in your company to write the spec.

Use HR for editing and to correct the offered renumeration. If your developers come back with…:

come slave away in our luxury offices overlooking the ocean with so much coffee on tap it would kill an elephant (seriously, George (UI) was taken to hospital twice last year with caffeine poisoning).
the pay is “ok” but the pointy-eared bosses don’t have a clue about things technical so you can just BS your time away and put up with the occasional demand.
overtime sux. at least the lan is wicked fast and we have uncapped ADSL with no firewall 🙂
p.s. my christmas leave just got cancelled thanks to an unreasonable deadline. bastards will pay!

Maybe you need to rethink hiring another head and spend some time “fixing” first?

But wait. You’ve also gained some valuable insight into the current group dynamic. That is an entirely different post altogether, needless to say, you can discern the inherent value therein yourself.
Oh, and one important tip: don’t give the task of writing their own job ad to your programmers with the air of a pointy-eared boss. At best, you’re going to get a copy-paste version. At worst, a one-liner: software developer required. apply within.

Done right, your devs communicating and reaching out to their peers works “better”. it’s more viral, more accessible, more appealing. It’s why the techie companies attract all the “cool” people because they speak the same language. But it doesn’t mean that just because your company doesn’t have a tech focus that it can’t do the same.

So here’s what i would like to see in a job ad:
It’s posted on youtube (for starters). It includes a view of the offices and some insight to the people i’m going to be working with; kinda like a:
“hi. my name is Martin. I’m head of engineering here at insert-company-here. looking forward to meeting you. bye.” and so on with key people.
and please include the receptionist. i’d also like to see footage of the coffee machine (in working order).
i would like to see/feel the buzz/vibe on a normal day. don’t go overboard with editing; candid is good.
and of course, i wanna see hardware. that’s important too. and workspaces, collaboration spaces and chill spaces.
you don’t have to give any secrets away, but if you can capture your ogranisation, it sells itself.

and if you can’t… erm… yes, well.. erm… right. look! ooooh. shiny.


Saffer Startups

I guess a lot of folk don’t realise just how many creative and energetic startups are born in South Africa (there’s a lot in that for another story some day, bit not today) and one of the more recent ones is

Aside from the energy these guys have been feeding off and into the world wide social web, the brainchild Sheraan Amod certainly seems to have done all the right homework. Particularly useful was this quick piece on marketing innovation.


Fanatical Idiocracy Froths Again

Why? We spent a lot of money, time, energy dealing with an international body responsible for managing the game played with a round ball while they were in our country for the tournament where a whole bunch of international teams came and played against each other; they call it the “beautiful game” and it was played on our doorstep. Make no mistake, the event for us was phenomenal for a whole bunch of completely unrelated reasons. Sure, for the footy fans it was about footy. For the rest of us who puzzled over a round ball that bounces straight- it was something else magic entirely.

But it came with a price. Bans on anything and everything related to world cup, 2010 = protecting copyright$. And some clever advertising scored even bigger when they were challenged and forced to come up with something else better.

But it’s not just a souf efrican thing: